Your browser does not support javascript:   Search for gard hereSearch for news-and-events here.


Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

Print friendly version

Myelodysplastic syndromes

Other Names for this Disease
  • MDS
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.


Newline Maker

What causes myelodysplastic syndromes?

It is known that the abnormal development of blood cells associated with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) develops as the result of a series of somatic genetic changes - mutations that are not inherited that arise after conception - in cells that later become blood cells. These changes alter normal cell growth and differentiation, resulting in the accumulation of abnormal, immature cells in the bone marrow, thus leading to the signs and symptoms of MDS. Some recurring chromosome abnormalities and translocations have been identified and can affect treatment planning and prognosis.[1]

Many times the underlying cause of MDS is unknown (idiopathic MDS). Sometimes, MDS can develop after chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer or autoimmune diseases (secondary MDS). There are also some possible risk factors for developing the condition.[2] Having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will get MDS; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that an individual will not get MDS.[3] Possible risk factors for MDS may include past treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy; exposure to some chemicals (pesticides and benzene); exposure to heavy metals (such as mercury or lead); cigarette smoking; viral infections; being over 60 years of age; and being male or white.[2][3] The majority of individuals developing MDS have no obvious connection with environmental hazards. MDS also sometimes runs in families, which suggests a potential genetic link with the disease; however, no disease causing gene has been identified.[2]
Last updated: 3/23/2012

  1. Yanming Zhang, Michelle M Le Beau. Cytogenetics and molecular genetics of myelodysplastic syndromes. UpToDate. UpToDate; October 11, 2011;
  2. Myelodysplastic Syndromes. NORD. March 15, 2012; Accessed 3/23/2012.
  3. General Information About Myelodysplastic Syndromes. NCI. March 16, 2012; Accessed 3/23/2012.